Essays: Kinds of freedom |
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Kinds of freedom **

The pace was a cracker when fifteen elongated sweeties settled down for the final stretch of the race to acquire Zoe Spink’s crown as Miss TV Times 73 (Thames), a bauble which carries with it riches unknown to the Moguls of Ind: a £500 cheque, a luxury holiday in Greece, and £200-worth of Woolmark fashion garments, not to mention the bon-bons which every finalist gets as a matter of course — a Molmax Ferrari tote-bag, a Mary Quant ‘overnighter’ beauty pack and a Braemar fully-fashioned sweater in superwash wool.

With such a radiant crock at the end of the rainbow, it was no wonder that the contestants were so high-powered. Miss ATV Midland, Pamela Calver, was not only lovely, she was interested in karate and sketching. Miss Granada, Marcelline Dixon, in addition to her mind-watering beauty had the attribute of being interested in walking. There was something restfully cultivated about that — one conjured the image of a Renaissance lady rustling through the gloom of a Michelozzo cloister on her way to turn down the advances of a minor Petrarchist and so get herself immortalised in a sonnet-cycle. Miss Channel, Brenda Haldane, on the other hand, established even more striking connotations of thoughtful leisure: she was interested in sunbathing.

With a field ranging all the way from a graphics-orientated athlete whose hands were deadly weapons to an island-dwelling contemplative who just lay there, it would have been a foolish man who jumped to conclusions about which girl was destined to superwash that fully-fashioned sweater in the luxury hotel-room on Corfu. The tests were fierce: no sooner had the prescribed walk in swimming togs and platform shoes been negotiated (Miss Granada scoring heavily here) than the girls were pitch-forked into a blistering Socratic dialogue with Pete Murray, briefed to probe for and lay bare the poise and personality of the girl fit to take over Zoe’s crown. It was somewhere about here that the whole show suddenly went ape.

As far as I can recall through the hangover induced by trying to drown the memory of the scene I am now attempting to evoke, each girl was turned loose in Madame Tussaud’s and asked to cuddle up to the effigy of the man she admired most. The results were bizarre beyond credibility. One girl’s choice nonplussed even the veteran Murray. Why that statue in particular? Because he, piped the lass, had all the qualities she’d like in a man. You have to believe me when I tell you that she had her arms around Henry VIII.

Australia’s cracker-barrel pixie, Richard Neville, had a show to himself called A Kind of Freedom (ATV) in which he returned to the You Beaut Country to do it the favour of contrasting its uptight mores with his own liberated personality. I have known and liked Richard Neville for years and believe him to be a true innocent, whose responsibility for the unique combination of narrow-eyed opportunism and cretinous fantasising which goes on amongst his entourage is strictly limited by a feel for politics that never got beyond the problems involved in sharing out the Dinky Toys before playing in the sandpit.

‘Man is only fully free when he plays,’ Neville announced in this programme, ‘it’s his most creative and unpsychotic state.’ You have to be a child to believe that, and the time is approaching at a rate of knots when the love generation will no longer be credible as children.

Dotted here and there through the show were phrases indicating that Neville has all he needs to be a writer — except, of course, respect for writing. But mostly the script was radical cheek. Cars were ‘twentieth-century gods’. A supermarket was ‘a shining edifice of drudgery’. You name it and he had a cliché for it. At one point, he was to be found blaming our ‘corrupt value system’ for his own stardom.

There was the odd good thing. He waxed envious about the surfies; having been, like me, a couple of years too late to catch their wave. Where we had the leaden arms of the body-surfer, the surfies had Malibu boards and the balletic lightness of a musculature dedicated to balancing on top of the Pacific Ocean instead of bullocking through it. It was a real revolution, bringing with it a pantheistic grace that left the previous generation clutching its life-saving medals in a rictus of jealousy. The effort I put into winning three Bronze Medallions has left me with a grudge against society and wrists that trail along the ground.

On such a subject Neville had something to say and said it with engaging tentativeness. On most subjects he had nothing to say and said it with a babbling fluency that made you wonder if perhaps he hadn’t popped a hinge. All too symbolically, the show wound up with Louise and Richard doffing their clobber and disappearing among rocky outcrops shrouded by the mist of a waterfall. That was the revolution, folks — cool as a mountain stream.

Harlech set fire to a hill of money in an effort to capture the putative magic of the Fabulous Burtons (Divorce His, Divorce Hers) and although the John Hopkins script was more realistic than usual in its dialogue (if no less unintelligible in its time-scale) the show declined to become airborne. But after movies as monumentally lousy as ‘Bluebeard’ and ‘Hammersmith is Out’ it was good to see Burton chipping some of the rust off his technique. ‘Beat me black and blue but please don’t leave me,’ chirped Taylor, doing her best to believe in the role. Her hair was by Alexandre of Paris, and the two-part programme was shot in those well-known Welsh mining communities Munich and Rome.

[ The Observer, 1st July 1973 ]

[ ** We don't have a copy of Clive’s original column for July 1st 1973, nor can we confirm its original title. The text above is reproduced from the piece’s re-issue in the Picador collection Visions Before Midnight. It may or may not be complete — typically the versions there have been edited for length and in some cases entire paragraphs have been omitted.

If you have a copy of the ‘Observer’ original, we would be delighted to include it in place of this. Please contact us HERE. ]